The Shed

Firing the kiln

Photograph­er Tomek Friedrich discusses the many layers embedded in his project to capture potter Michael O’Donnell at work


Pottery requires patience. Not only does the formation of the creation take some time to perfect, but the actual firing and setting of the artwork can also take hours, followed by days for cooling. But patience is something that seems to be found in abundance in both photograph­er Tomek Friedrich and potter Michael O’Donnell.

The photograph­er and the potter first met around 20 years ago. O’Donnell and Friedrich lived one street away from each other — they still do — and it was during a student project of Friedrich’s that their paths crossed.

Friedrich had decided he wanted to shoot photos of pottery, so the pair got talking about what O’Donnell did, and Friedrich was invited to his workshop. “He opened his place and told me to come along whenever I felt like — he always lets me know when he is firing. Gradually, I became more involved and curious about his work,” says the photograph­er.

O’Donnell introduces themes of environmen­t and mental health in his work, ideas that Friedrich was interested in portraying in a photograph­y project he worked on for an entire year, starting in 2014 and completing it in October of 2015.

He explains, “[O’Donnell] does exhibition­s in New Zealand, and sometimes multimedia projects featuring dancing and singing, which aim to raise awareness around the environmen­t and mental health. It’s proven that when people live away from nature, they’re more likely to

suffer depression. Our world is getting worse in terms of pollution and moving away from nature, and when we move away from nature, we move away from ourselves.”

To portray this transition in the mentalheal­th spectrum, Friedrich has ideas surroundin­g the visual depiction of the change from dark to light (or from depression to coming out the other side).

“I had some idea that when I put everything together — I was thinking perhaps in a small book — the photograph­s would be ordered from black-and-white images to colour in order to represent the emerging from a dark depression to a big colour pool. I was hoping to also have an article published about my project — but I’m not a good writer,” Friedrich says, with a laugh.

Looking at Friedrich’s photograph­s, the documentar­y element of the series shines through. The images are approachab­le and intriguing, sometimes making you do a doubletake as you see more in a photograph, something you hadn’t noticed during your first viewing. Perhaps that comes about because Friedrich was trying to capture more than just a perfect image.

“A lot of photograph­s aim to capture perfection. I was hoping to capture a bit of both the feeling and the atmosphere — I wanted to capture the essence of it. You have to look beyond a little bit and look at what’s inside — I was aiming to present the divine. It’s not easy, but if the viewer gets reminded of [the] divine in themselves, then that’s great,” Friedrich says.

He has presented O’Donnell with the images, and the potter wants to incorporat­e the photograph­s into one of his multimedia shows, which is still at the planning stage.

Now that this project has come to an end, Friedrich is moving on to new plans for his personal work, which he hopes will see him travel the length and breadth of New Zealand exploring our beautiful landscapes, with the goal being a book showcasing the photograph­s captured on his travels.

“I want to show the sacred places of New Zealand and the depth and essence of those places. I think I’m looking at a three- to four-year project. So far, I’ve been to Taranaki, Tongariro, and Ruapehu. I’ve been up the North Island and down the South Island, but I want to explore more and do more research and ask the iwi of each area their take on it,” he says.

You can see more of Friedrich’s work and follow his landscape-photograph­y journey at

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